The Evergreen State College’s first archaeological field school at the historic Bush Prairie Farm near Tumwater has wrapped up.
Several students in the class said they plan to continue working with the hundreds of artifacts that were discovered during the four-week class that included a dig at the former pioneer homestead off Old Highway 99 Southeast. And they’re hoping to obtain state permits to continue excavating at the site in the future, according to archaeologist and Evergreen faculty member Ulrike Krotscheck.
“Just because this field school is ending doesn’t mean the project is,” said Kelson McConnell, 25, a junior. “We’ll be going back. There’s more to find and more to learn.”
The class uncovered about 250 diagnostic artifacts — items with some type of marking or clue that will help them determine the era or location from which they originated — along with hundreds of other less identifiable finds, such as glass bits, old nails and pottery shards. They were working on the property where George Bush, his wife, Isabella, and their children homesteaded in 1845. The dig was about 10 centimeters deep, and one of the plots was about 16 feet by 16 feet.
Students also took soil samples from the area, which was a cow pasture until recently. By using flotation archaeological techniques (basically rinsing and screening the soil multiple times) they were able to collect roots, seeds, rocks and other organic materials, along with tiny artifacts, such as glass shards.
Some of the biggest items recovered during the dig include a metal barrel ring, an ax head, a piece from a tractor, and what several students believe could be a bicycle pedal. Students also found several pieces of dishes, including one that dated back to the late 1800s, based on a maker’s mark.
The dig was slow and tedious, and the temperatures stayed in the 90s for several days, but it was fun to play in the dirt, said senior Annie Hesketh, 23.
“It was kind of an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “Even (uncovering) the tiniest piece of glass was exciting.”
There were once four homes on the property, and an archaeological survey indicates that the dig is taking place at or near Bush’s original cabin, according to Don Trosper, a public history manager with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.
Bush was a free man of African and Irish heritage, and his wife was white.
Driven north by the Oregon “Lash Laws” — laws that prohibited blacks from claiming land and allowed for periodic whippings of them — the family became one of the first families in the Tumwater area. The lure of free land, the idea of helping build a new area of the country, and the chance to escape racism were all factors in Bush’s decision to settle in the area, Trosper said.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize he (Bush) was a veteran of the War of 1812,” said Tim Schilling, 51, an Evergreen junior.
Much of Bush’s land, more than 500 acres, was sold, and a large part of it is now the Olympia Regional Airport. The former homestead site is now part of Bush Prairie Farms, a Community Supported Agriculture farm owned by Kathleen and Mark Clark.
The couple was instrumental in getting the field school set up for Evergreen, and they shared some of the artifacts they found earlier with the students, Krotscheck said.
During the course, students took turns at the excavation site, and processing — cleaning and recording — the finds in the lab. They also took several field trips, including to the Burke Museum, the Makah Museum, and the Squaxin Island Museum Library and Research Center.
“I definitely learned a lot about this area’s local history,” said Dominic Schiro, 24, an Evergreen junior.
The items removed from the site will be passed along to the Northwest African American Museum, the Thurston County Historic Commission, the Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission, the Squaxin Island Tribe, the Nisqually Tribe, and local libraries and schools.
Plans also are under way to display some of the artifacts in an exhibit at the Daniel J. Evans Library at Evergreen this fall, Krotscheck said.